Your Letters

ISM and Terror Victims

I read with tears the moving first-person account of the friend of a terror victim (“My Mikvah Lady,” Sept. 12), the story of Dr. David Applebaum, who saved so many lives and who died with his daughter on the eve of her wedding, and the astounding piece by Jonathan Medved concerning the heroism of his 16-year-old son who came to the aid of the Cafe Hillel bombing victims (“Our Heroes and Theirs,” Sept. 12). It was remarkable to juxtapose his values, those of Dr. Applebaum and even those of mikvah lady, Rachel Weitz, with those of the lost Jewish souls so well-described in Gaby Wenig’s article about young Jewish members of the Israel Solidarity Movement (ISM) (“Human Rights Activists or Aids to Terrorists?” Sept. 12).

As I read about young Jews who were so in thrall of the Palestinian cause and so filled with hate of Israel that they could not even bring themselves to condemn terror attacks, or even offered tacit support, I could not help but compare them to Jewish collaborators with the Nazis. And sadly, the ISM supporters came out worse. Jews who collaborated with the Nazis did so in a desperate attempt to save their lives or the lives of their families. Jewish ISM supporters provide succor to the enemies of their people and minimize the atrocity of terror and suicide attacks out of a warped and misguided belief that what they are doing is just, right and actually in support of human rights. Their naiveté and lack of compassion for the maimed, bereaved and dying in Israel sickens me.

Jan Roberts, Canoga Park

I read the article about Jews who are part of the so-called International Solidarity Movement and had to choke back a strong sense of revulsion. I was revolted by the concept of Jews who would stoop so low as to aid and abet an enemy sworn to destruction of Jews — not just the Jewish State, but Jews anywhere and of any stripe. I was revolted by how these Jews even support the use of suicide/homicide bombing as a legitimate form of resistance, and total shock and disgust at the chutzpah they exhibit by daring to cite tikkun olam as their motive.

Yet this revulsion is tinged with pity — how could these Jews be so sick and self-deluded? How did they get this way, so that they turn their backs on their own people? It is one thing to protest Israel’s actions as part of the loyal opposition, but it is quite another to sympathize with terrorists as a means of protest.

Heshy Rosenwasser, Los Angeles

Oslo Anniversary

After reading the articles and the divergent perceptions and analyses of Dennis Ross, Dori Gold, Yossi Beilin, and Avraham Burg; anyone who thinks peace is possible between the Palestinians and Israelis is deluding themselves (“Ten Years After Oslo,” Sept. 12). No one presently on the political scene has the vision or courage of a Anwar Sadat, Nelson Mandela or Vaclav Havel, and the environment is not conducive to producing one. I pray that I am wrong, but I fear that I am right.

David M. Marcus, Los Angeles

Rising Intermarriage

David Marker of the National Technical Advisory Committee, quoted in Joe Berkofsky’s interesting article, “Rising Intermarriage, Fewer Jews” (Sept. 12), hits the nail on the head when he states that the Jewish community must do a better job of reaching out to Jews who have intermarried and their families.

As someone who intermarried more than 20 years ago (and whose husband converted to Judaism several years after our marriage), I can attest to the fact that other than the commitment of the marital partners, the attitude and outreach efforts of the community makes a huge difference in whether they decide to remain in the fold or not. When we were first engaged and then married, we were very fortunate to live in San Francisco and belong to Temple Emanuel, which, through its rabbis, programs, classes and congregation, welcomed us and made us feel a part of the community, when others, including many members of my family, did the opposite.

I have always had a strong Jewish identity, and the temple and its community helped my husband to foster his own identity, along with the rabbis involved in his conversion process once we moved back to Los Angeles at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, as well as rabbi Lawrence Goldmark. Their outreach, understanding and treatment of us as individuals left an indelible mark on our faith and on our life as a Jewish family. We are now active members of Valley Beth Shalom, where our children attend Hebrew school and nursery school.

I understand the issues surrounding intermarriage. However, the reality of Jewish life for thousands of years is that Jews have always intermarried and we have survived and thrived. Instead of condemnation and dismissal, let’s engage in a dialogue of the heart, soul and intellect as we welcome intermarried families to the community of Israel.

Leslie M.B. Cole , Los Angeles

A Warm Greeting

Alan Fisher wrote what I have been saying for a long time: we need to welcome those who come to our synagogues as our brethren of other faiths welcome everyone to their places of worship (“Say Hello Before They Say Goodbye,” Sept. 12). I am delighted to see his citing of Beth Jacob as an exemplary synagogue. I am proud to be a part of its outreach to those who come to worship with us. I anticipate greeting readers who are seeking a welcoming community!

Valerie Kay Strum, Beverly Hills


In the Sept. 5 Circuit, Red Buttons is pictured with Carol Conners.

Human Rights Activists or Aids to Terrorists?

Yuri Gottesman spent his summer volunteering in Israel this year, but instead of picking oranges on a kibbutz, he slept in a terrorist’s house that was scheduled for demolition and cleared roadblocks that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) had set up to hinder the passage of terrorists.

"I decided that I really needed to be in Palestine in solidarity with the Palestinians," said the 24-year-old Jewish San Franciscan of his reasons for going to Israel.

Gottesman is a member of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), a motley group of activists from around the world that converge in the West Bank and Gaza ostensibly to encourage the Palestinians to engage in nonviolent resistance against the Israelis. The ISM — a group of a few thousand people with chapters in North America, Europe and Asia — see it as their mission to report on what they call Israeli atrocities against the Palestinians, and also to use their status as internationals to act as "human shields," positioning themselves between members of the IDF and the Palestinians, standing in the way of bulldozers poised to demolish houses and placing themselves in crowds so that the IDF will be less likely to use real bullets if violence breaks out.

Invariably, their work has bought them a fair share of praise and criticism. The ISM has been both nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize and banned from Israel by the Israeli government. While some people see the ISM as a 21st century incarnation of the civil rights movement, others see them as honey-tongued supporters and facilitators of suicide bombings and terrorism.

Like Gottesman, many of the members of the ISM — about 30 percent — are Jewish, and a large proportion of these come from California. The ISM encourages Jews to join its ranks because they will have an easier time making it through the Israeli borders. Unlike other left-wing groups like Peace Now — which wishes to achieve peace in the interests of Israel’s security and to retain Israel’s Jewish values — the ISM wants to end the Israeli presence in the territories and stop the United States from funding Israel, all in the interests of creating peace for the Palestinians.

Jewish members of the ISM tend to use their Judaism as justification for their work — seeing it as continuing the tradition of tikkun olam and an essential part of the Jewish tradition of social justice. They feel that at this juncture, being true to Judaism requires helping those who they see as the least fortunate — the Palestinians. Most are embarrassed by Zionism and seek to distance themselves from the actions of their forebears by going to help Palestinians.

"Something that I have taken from Judaism is to always support the underdog, especially when the underdog is right," said Rebecca Elswit, 24, from Los Angeles, who like Gottesman spent her summer clearing roadblocks set up by the IDF.

These ISMers are idealistic — several of them cried while discussing their experience in the territories, and others appeared visibly shaken when talking about Israel. They use the same anti-Israel jargon of "apartheid walls," "Israeli terrorism" and the "right to resist the occupation." Some referred to the IDF as the IOF — Israeli Occupation Forces — and they all vilified Israelis while blindly canonizing the Palestinians.

"I don’t see how Israel is any different to Nazism during World War II," said Darlene Wallach, 52, of San Jose, an unemployed software engineer and Jewish ISM activist. "But the Palestinians are the most kind, loving, wonderful, generous people you could meet and what emanates from the Palestinians is just kindness and generosity and not anger."

Wallach volunteered for the ISM last year, and now every Wednesday she goes to a busy intersection in San Jose to protest against Israel.

While people of all ages are drawn to the ISM, the majority tend to be in their 20s. Several of those interviewed by The Journal had full-time jobs promoting left-wing causes like unions — others had more conventional jobs like writers or nurses. Most were articulate and put together, many of them acting on the pro-Palestinian rhetoric they had heard in college.

The volunteers in the ISM purport to help Palestinians in the territories in a number of ways. Arla, an Jewish ISM volunteer from San Francisco currently in Israel, who did not want to give her last name for fear of Israeli recriminations, spent some of her time taking photographs of cracks in the walls of Palestinians’ houses that appeared there after the Israelis had used dynamite in the area to erect the security fence. Tamara Rattino, 26, from Irvine, used her skills as a midwife to help deliver babies in hospitals that were under curfew. Lynn Cohen, originally from Milwaukee, now living in Los Angeles, would monitor checkpoints that the Israelis set up to curb the flow of terrorists into Israel.

"There was a network of information that came from a cellphone, and the coordinators would say that the Israeli checkpoint was holding 12 people who had been standing there for three hours," Cohen said. "We would go and facilitate their getting through, saying ‘This was just a student and they were going to miss their exams and classes.’"

One of the most famous cases of ISM activism came from Rachel Corrie, a Jewish girl from Olympia, Wash., who was crushed by a bulldozer after trying to prevent it from demolishing a house that the Israeli government charged had a tunnel built in it that was used to smuggle weapons in from Egypt. Although Corrie is seen as a martyr of the ISM — murdered in cold blood by the Israelis — the IDF investigated her death and found that the driver of the bulldozer was not able to see her.

Another well-known Jewish ISMer, Adam Shapiro, bought food to Arafat when he was besieged by the IDF in his compound in Ramallah. Shapiro married Huwaida Arraf, one of the founders of the ISM, and, although he has been expelled from Israel, he continues to work organizing ISM events in the United States.

According the ISM, the impetus behind these activities is to assist the Palestinians in having a normal life, and they are merely responding in a humanitarian way to a dismal and life-threatening situation. According to the Israeli government, these activities only worsen the situation in the territories and make it much harder for the IDF to fight terrorism. Further, the Israeli government charges that terrorist groups use the ISM as patsies, exploiting their naiveté and idealism to advance their own destructive aims. The ISM denies this.

"If you read the description of their movement on their Web site, you see that they define themselves as a movement lead by Palestinians, with Palestinian activists," said David Saronga, a spokesman for the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Israel. "We are not talking about an international organization — this is a Palestinian organization that is trying to put itself under the cover of being European or American."

Saronga also noted the most famous indiscretions of the ISM: On March 27, Shabi Sukeyah, a member of Islamic Jihad who had planned a number of suicide attacks, was found hiding in the ISM offices; on May 4, the Guardian newspaper in England revealed that the two British suicide bombers who blew up Mike’s Place in Tel Aviv had been to a meeting of the ISM the week before.

"They talk about the right of the Palestinians for armed struggle, as something legitimate," Saronga said. "They say it very clearly with those words. But since they are talking about armed struggle, you can’t say that they are pacifists."

Indeed, if you ask a Jewish member of the ISM whether they condemn suicide bombings, you are likely to get a cagey response. Some like Rattino say that they condemn suicide bombings but, under international law, occupied people have a right to resist by whatever means necessary. Others, like Gottesman, take a long pause before they answer, and then will come out with something like, "I condemn all acts of terrorism including Sharon’s acts of terrorism and including innocent Palestinians dying every day." While still others like Wallach say simply, "There is nothing that the Palestinians do that in my regard I can condemn. I cannot condemn suicide bombings."

Terrorism expert Steven Emerson told The Journal that according to his intelligence, the ISM collects information for terrorist groups to use.

"I believe that based on what I know, that they are doing intelligence gathering on movement of Israeli forces and relaying it to Palestinian groups," he

said. "I think that the body of evidence of their conferences, of their statements show that they support Palestinian terrorism."

Alan Dershowitz, professor of law at Harvard University and the author of "The Case for Israel" (Wiley, 2003) said that members of the ISM could not be called human rights activists, because they only focus on the Palestinians, while ignoring serious human rights violations in Tibet and other places.

"Why pick the one people whose leaders have been aligned with Nazis and who have used terrorism since 1949?" Dershowitz asked. "They are being immoral, they are on the wrong side of morality, and they are supporting a group that has as part of its policy the murder of innocent civilians."

Dershowitz also compared supporters of the ISM to the Hitler Youth.

"I don’t see any difference between naive young Jews who join ISM, and naive young Germans who joined the Nazi youth," he told The Journal. "But ignorance is no excuse. The ISM provides legitimacy to terrorists, and they make it harder for Israel to fight terrorism. There is a word for what they are, and it is not patsies, it is criminals."